TiVo 'Neutron' Aims To Blow Away Other Set-Top Boxes

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TiVo, looking to reverse recent customer losses, is unwrapping two new DVRs and a graphics-rich guide designed for HDTVs that the company brags will make other cable set-tops seem clunky and outdated.

The new Premiere and Premiere XL boxes -- code-named Neutron -- feature an interface with a 16:9 aspect ratio based on Adobe Systems' Flash platform. The guide includes a new video window that shows what's currently playing while a user is navigating menus and provides search across TV listings, DVR recordings, Internet video and premium broadband-delivered content from Amazon.com, Blockbuster and Netflix.

It's the only box you need to have connected to your TV, according to TiVo president and CEO Tom Rogers. "At the heart of it, we're demonstrating how cable, broadcast and broadband content can come together in an integrated fashion," he said in an interview.

TiVo Premiere

TiVo desperately needs to punch up its sex appeal to convince new customers to pay upwards of $500 for one of its set-tops, plus a $12.95 monthly subscription fee.

The company, which pioneered the DVR market 10 years ago, has been losing ground to operator-supplied DVRs. As of Oct. 31, 2009, the company had 2.7 million total subscribers -- down from 3.5 million a year earlier and off 62% from a peak of around 4.4 million in late 2006.

To reverse the tide, TiVo has inked distribution deals with Comcast, DirecTV, Cox Communications and others but so far none have paid off in any significant way.

One of TiVo's customers is RCN, which now plans to begin rolling out TiVo Premiere boxes as its primary DVR starting in the second quarter of 2010. The operator announced its deal with TiVo last August.

"We are proud to be leading the cable industry in the adoption of this groundbreaking approach to advanced television," RCN president and CEO Peter Aquino said in a statement. "TiVo will bring a whole new way for our subscribers to experience television with TiVo's DVR and broadband television offerings."

On the retail front, TiVo will start taking pre-orders for the Premiere boxes on Wednesday, March 3, on its Web site. They will be available from Best Buy, Amazon.com and other retail outlets nationwide in early April.

The baseline Premiere ($299.99 list) has 320 Gigabytes of storage, for up to 45 hours of HD storage space or up to 400 hours of standard-definition programming, and the Premiere XL ($499.99 list) has 1 Terabyte of storage, for up to 150 hours of HD or up to 1,350 hours of SD video.

Premiere's HD interface provides more real estate for two- and three-column layouts that are faster to navigate, Rogers said. The new guide also displays movie posters and TV show logos, as well as pictures of actors and actresses, as part of listings and folder menus.

TiVo Central menu

A "discovery bar" at the top of the screen provides recommendations based on other content a TiVo user has selected. Over time users will be able to personalize the bar, Rogers said; for example, someone could specify "action/adventure" as a favorite genre. A new "collections" section lets viewers browse content grouped in 20 or so themes, curated by TiVo's editorial team, such as Oscar-winning movies or Emmy-winning TV shows.

"This is about getting people what they want when they have millions of options," Rogers said.

Other enhancements with the Premiere release: an on-screen disk-space meter that shows how much recording space is left, and a built-in 30-second fast-forward button to zap commercials.

TiVo says the Premiere models run the Series4 architecture. The new boxes -- which measure 16.5-by-9.7-by-2.4 inches -- are more energy efficient and around 20% smaller than previous generations of TiVo DVRs, according to Jim Denney, general manager and vice president of product marketing.

With the Premiere launch, TiVo is announcing two content deals: Internet radio station service Pandora and FrameChannel, which offers nearly 1,000 content widgets that provide such features as photo sharing, social networking, news, weather and sports scores. Rogers also noted that with the move to Adobe Flash, third party developers at some point will be able to write apps that run on the TiVo Premiere platform.

In addition, TiVo will offer three accessories with Premiere: a remote with a slide-out QWERTY keyboard to ship this fall (no pricing); a new Wi-Fi 802.11n adapter to be available in May ($89.99 list); and a phone line adapter for users who don't have broadband to access program listings and updates ($29.99 list).

TiVo remote with
slide-out keyboard

The remote, which has TiVo's trademark peanut shape, provides extended range of up to 30 feet via Bluetooth wireless and backlit, programmable buttons. It will ship with a Bluetooth USB dongle that users plug into an available USB port on TiVo Series3, TiVo HD or TiVo Premiere boxes.